This episode, part 2 of the six-episode ‘Dominion War’ arc though apparently filmed after part 3 due to location availability, achieved the feat of being dark and bitter without cynicism, indeed of being such within a story that lauded honour.
We are but moments on from the end of ‘A Time to Stand’: the captured Jem’hadar ship that Sisko and Co. are using needs three days of repair but doesn’t get three minutes. Two Jem’Hadar ships are in pursuit and fire, damaging the ship beyond repair, and damaging Jardzia Dax so much that, despite the majority of the episode taking place on a sunny planet, she’s laid up in a cave (a necessary twist, given that Terry Farrell had a skin condition effectively making her allergic to direct sunlight).
To escape, the ship plunges headlong into an uncharted dark nebula, crashing into a digitally-created sea, forcing the crew to have to swim ashore. Unfortunately for them, only two days earlier, a completely different Jem’Hadar ship has crash-landed on the same planet, just a few caves over.
The set-up is a bit too coincidental, though we mustn’t forget that we are still deep in Dominion-controlled space. What follows though only grew in strength, and that odd nobility that seems inextricably intertwined with war, thanks in no small part to the performance of guest star Phil Morris in the role of the Jem’Hadar commander, Third Remata’Klan. Morris chose to play his part as a very steady, close to emotionless, very serious role, lending gravitas to a figure that is supposed to be a drug-dependent, near-deranged, purpose-bred killer, who was to be central to the story.
The story itself was relatively simple. The Jem’Hadar are under the command of the Vorta Keevan (Christopher Shea), who has been wounded in the crash. After Garak and Nog are captured, Remata’Klan is sent with terms: that they will be released unharmed, in exchange for Sisko and Bashir meeting with Keevan. The Vorta’s purpose is two-fold, Bashir to save his life, Sisko for a deal. There is only one vial of White left, between ten soldiers. Once it is gone, they will lose all control and slaughter everyone. In return for his safety, as a Prisoner of War, Keevan will direct the Jem’Hadar into a trap where the Starfleet crew can massacre them. They then get the Jem’Hadar comms unit, which O’Brien can fix and send a rescue message.
Despite his moral reservations about slaughtering the Jem’Hadar, which several of his crew (not Garak, of course) share, Sisko goes ahead. But before ambushing the Jem’Hadar, Sisko offers terms to Remata’Klan. If the Jem’Hadar will surrender, their lives can be spared. Bashir will sedate them and, after rescue, they will be put in stasis until they can cured or returned. They have been betrayed by Keevan, he does not deserve their loyalty.
Here was where the episode hinged on Morris. Remata’Klan refuses. He has known all along that he and his men are being set-up: the plan of attack is tactically stupid. But he is loyal to the Vorta and he has his orders. It’s not that Keevan has to earn loyalty, it is that Remata’Klan was born loyal. It is the way he is. it is the Order of Things.
What depends on Morris, what has been built by his steadfastness, his entrenched solidity throughout, is that we not see this as stupid, as naive or unblinking loyalty, the subservience of cattle. Remata’Klan is more than that. He is an intelligent, thinking being. He knows that what is being done to him and the men for whom he is responsible is wrong, he knows that he faces an enemy far more worthy, who will bend over backwards to assist their own enemies. But he knows who he is, and he has long ago accepted that, and he must act in accordance with the dictates of his being. It is not that he cannot make a different choice, but rather that he will not, and it depends on Phil Morris showing us that and having us believe it or the whole episode is lost.
And without a single histrionic, indeed because there are no histrionics, he knocks it out of the park. There is bitterness, that someone of such high intelligence and purpose has to be killed and even more so in the smug face of Keevan looking down on his dead men as if they are no more than animals, a moment from Shea that was equally crucial to the episode, but as I said above, there was no cynicism, save in Keevan and that moment.
Originally, the script called for a closing scene in which Worf beams down from General Martok’s ship to rescue the stranded crew. Because of the excessive, unanticipated heat on the three-day location shoot, time ran out before this scene could be shot, leaving the episode to focus, much more effectively, on Sisko’s close-up, grappling with his rage at the part he’d had to play in this brutal slaying, wanting to execute the smug, grinning Keevan with his own hands, but having to accept the part his duties, and the condition of war forces upon him.
Of course, this was not all. The parallel DS9/Terak Nor story centred upon Major Kira: the routine of her role as Bajoran Liaison Officer, working on the Bridge with Cardassians and Jem’Hadar alike, the ease with which she slips into the role of trying to prevent Vedek Yassim from organising a protest on the Promenade, her discomfort at Jake Sisko’s entirely reasonable questions.
Then came the shock: the Vedek’s protest turned out to be something very small and very personal, derived no doubt from those Monks who, in order to protest the regime in Vietnam, would set themselves alight in public and burn to death. Vedek Yassim jumps from the upper deck of the Promenade with a noose around her neck.
The sight shocks Kira into realising just how gradually, how easily, she has slipped into becoming a collaborator. Even though her role is in line with Sisjo’s orders, in her own eyes she has become what she despised in the days of the Cardassian Occupation. She must become an active, not a passive, resistor.
That’s to come, some of it, I suspect, next week as the writers juggled with episodes being written out of order and how later episodes affected earlier ones written afterwards. We’ll see how that pans out.